Three years ago, a Gilroy High School senior suffering from lupus beamed when the Make-A-Wish Foundation made his automotive fantasy come true, giving his 1995 Honda Civic a complete makeover including a new paint job, stereo, keyless entry system, shiny gold rims and new tires with a lifetime warranty.
Captured on the front page of the Dispatch in March 2009, the moment resembled an episode of a reality television show – smiling Make-A-Wish volunteers presented the car, which they spent three weeks and $5,000 refurbishing, to 18-year-old Jesus Alcantar, who “drooled” over its facelift. Meanwhile, Alcantar’s mother stood back, thrilled to see her son, plagued by a serious auto-immune disease that attacks the body’s joints and tissue, so happy.
“This is the part that rewards us for all of our time,” Make-A-Wish foundation volunteer Benjamin Lee told the Dispatch as he watched Alcantar admire his new ride.
Alcantar hugged the Make-A-Wish volunteers, turned up the hip-hop station on his new stereo system, which was worth more than the car itself, and drove away into the sunset.
In October 2011, Alcantar’s face surfaced on the front page of the Dispatch once again.
But this time Alcantar wasn’t smiling. His photo was a mugshot taken by Gilroy Police. He was arrested for possession of stolen cars, stolen firearms, insurance fraud and gang affiliation.
Police busted Alcantar, now 21, as a part of Operation Garlic Press, the 18-month multi-agency undercover sting that caught 186 criminals and gang members in Gilroy and surrounding areas.
Officer Jeff Roccaforte, who played a key role in the day-to-day operations of Operation Garlic Press, remembered Alcantar’s charges upon hearing his name.
“He wasn’t a brand-new kid on the block to us,” Roccaforte said.
Alcantar was diagnosed with lupus when he was 15 years old. A former linebacker and shortstop for GHS, Alcantar quit playing sports on account of his illness.
“I don’t see myself with this disease,” Alcantar told the Dispatch in 2009. Alcantar said he had plans to apply to college to work in the automotive industry someday.
So when the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the national nonprofit whose mission is to grant wishes to children and teens with life-threatening illnesses, heard of Alcantar’s condition and his wish for some fancy upgrades on his Honda Civic, the charity made it happen.
While lupus may have stopped Alcantar from playing sports, it didn’t stop him from committing crimes. When Alcantar heard from a friend about a new shop in town that would buy stolen cars, guns and drugs at fair prices, court documents indicate that he wanted some of the action.
In September 2010, he and a buddy visited Bobby’s Place at 6700 Brem Lane – which was actually an undercover police sting operation – to cut some deals with “Bobby,” the undercover GPD agent disguised as the illicit shop owner.
A week later, Alcantar sent Bobby a text message that said, “I think we got a civic 4 U if U want – nuthin fancy rite now – would U take that.”
On Oct. 6, Bobby bought a stolen 1992 Silver Civic from Alcantar and his friend, Daniel Reyes, for $700.
“It should be reported stolen already,” Alcantar told Bobby. Although police don’t have the evidence to say for sure that Alcantar stole the car, which had been broken into with a shaved key, they said that a criminal who sells a stolen car is usually the one to steal it.
A San Martin resident reported the car stolen from his driveway on Oct. 5.
The undercover agent who criminals knew as Bobby, a tough-guy criminal with lots of connections and status, said after that first sale, Alcantar was “very eager” to do more business with him.
“That kid wanted to bring me something every week,” Bobby said, who asked his real name not to be revealed. “I actually had to blow him off a lot, which made him mad.”
When Roccaforte and Bobby learned that the Make-A-Wish foundation gave Alcantar’s car a makeover in 2009, they laughed.
“Yeah, that’s the car we all saw him driving all around in,” Bobby said.
“We had our eye on that car a lot,” Roccaforte said.
Police did not purchase the souped-up Make-A-Wish car from Alcantar.
The stolen gun that Alcantar sold to Bobby in 2010 was an AR-15 rifle, complete with magazines and ammunition, the same type that GPD officers carry. Roccaforte said they are so powerful they can shoot through body armor.
“That is exactly the type of gun we want to get off the hands of criminals,” he said.
When asked by the Dispatch if the Make-A-Wish foundation would seek restitution for the $5,000 they spent on Alcantar’s gift, Lisa McIntire, program manager of the Bay Area chapter of Make-A-Wish, said absolutely not.
“Once we give a wish, that’s it. What he does now is up to him,” McIntire said. Make-A-Wish decides if recipients qualify for a gift solely by medical condition. Even if Alcantar had a criminal record at the time for stealing cars and guns (which he didn’t), they still would have granted his wish.
“We don’t ask about anyone’s legal status. That has no bearing on us whatsoever,” she said, sounding irritated that this piece of bad news might be published.
Make-A-Wish relies on private donations to fund their work – 80 percent of its funding comes from individual contributions, according to the charity’s website.
Mark Hiegel, communications director for Make-A-Wish said he doesn’t often hear about wish recipients becoming criminals.
“I think I’ve gotten three calls about something like this in the last year,” Hiegel said. “If we can get it right 99.9 percent of the time, I sleep pretty well with that.”
While Alcantar may not have to pay Make-A-Wish back, he does have to pay the San Martin resident $3,850 in restitution for selling his car illicitly, as well as $2,600 to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for selling stolen guns.
The judge also sentenced Alcantar to 180 days in jail, and three years probation. Police said they didn’t have enough evidence to charge Alcantar with gang affiliation, so the District Attorney ultimately dropped those charges.
Alcantar still has lupus – in fact, police let Alcantar spend the last six months out of custody, making a special exception for him because of his medical condition.
“This way he could go to his own doctor, so the state didn’t have to pay for his treatments,” Roccaforte said.